SLY: San Joaquin Valley sounds nicer than Central Valley

jsly@modbee.comJuly 20, 2013 

I usually write about local politics, but I'm opening today with a subject that has been bugging me for some time.

What is wrong with the name San Joaquin Valley? Increasingly, people — insiders and outsiders — use Central Valley to refer to the San Joaquin Valley.

I don't get it. "Central" is ordinary and vague. There are communities with that same name in New York, Indiana and elsewhere.

We had a visiting politician from Sacramento a few years ago who assured our editorial board that he regularly visited the Central Valley. I wanted to scream at him, "Of course you do; you live and work in it."

I, an Oregon native, have only been in California 40 years, so I don't get to decide these things. But I did consult with a bonafide expert: James Wanket, a geography professor at California State University, Sacramento, and current president of the California Geographical Society.

He responded to my email question this way: "The term 'Central Valley' refers to the entire region of flat topography from the Redding area all the way down to the Bakersfield area …

"The Sacramento Valley and San Joaquin Valley are the northern and southern portions, respectively, of the Central Valley. Some geographers have the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys meet each other along an indistinct boundary somewhere between the cities of Sacramento and Stockton (the southern boundary of Sacramento County is sometimes used as the boundary between the two valleys). Other geographers separate the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys by the delta region, the area of tidally influenced water flows where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet."

So, we are part of the Central Valley, but to be more precise, we're in the San Joaquin Valley. It's a nice name, don't you think?

• • •

As more small school districts move to electing trustees by district, I share the concern of whether there will be enough qualified candidates in districts with only a few hundred registered voters.

That's already a problem in many special districts, meaning that vacancies are filled by appointment. Some very capable people will seek appointment where they won't run for office, but the public doesn't get the same chance to review who will represent them. Perhaps worse than no one running is that there will only be one mediocre candidate.

It will take two or three election cycles to know whether this will be a problem in Hughson and elsewhere.

Here in Modesto, some have wanted to declare district council elections a disaster based on just the first two cycles. I'm not ready to do that.

District 2, representing south Modesto, was informally earmarked as the Latino district, but the two-way race in 2009 was won by Dave Geer, who has served the district well. Headed into the Nov. 5 election, there are four Latino candidates who have done the preliminary paperwork for District 2, and it could end up being the most crowded and interesting of the three Modesto council races.

• • •

My July 7 column referred to Tom McClintock's state legislative pension, which he gets in addition to his $174,000 annual salary as a congressman. I noted, as did the National Journal, that there's certain hypocrisy in his attacks on public employee pensions when he is collecting one.

Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Morain went a little further. Morain talked to a former legislative staffer who recalled that, in 2005, as a state senator, McClintock said he wasn't taking the pension. And in his 2008 campaign for Congress, Morain wrote, McClintock told The (Sacramento) Bee and Los Angeles Times that he had sworn off a California state pension due him from his early tenure in the Legislature. "I'm concluding 22 years in the state Legislature now. I have no pension. I turned that down when I began in 1982," McClintock told the LA Times in May 2008.

McClintock changed his mind and since 2009 has been collecting a state pension. Morain's full column is available on our website,

Sly is editor of the Opinions pages. Contact her at or (209) 578-2317 or on Twitter @judysly.

Modesto Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service